>> At A Glance
* Title: Girl In Translation
* Author: Jean Kwok
* Genre: Cultural fiction, young adult, contemporary, coming of age
* The Edition I Read: Paperback (307 pages), published 3 May 2011 by Riverhead, ISBN 1594485151
>> Synopsis by Emma Hagestadt for the British online newspaper The Independent
“Kimberly Chang, the heroine of Jean Kwok’s debut novel, exchanges Hong Kong for New York in the early 1980s. While Kimberly’s mother earns two cents an hour in a sweatshop, her 11-year-old daughter faces the challenge of school: neither speaks English. Kimberly also has the even more difficult business of hiding her extreme poverty from her new friends.
Inspired by her own first hand experience of immigration, Kwok writes with quiet passion about the strange dichotomy of growing up surrounded by the glitz of New York, while being barely able to afford to eat.” (Source)
>> Quotes Review
* “We would be allowed to work and not cause any trouble for her, but she didn’t want us to be any more successful than she was.” – Ah-Kim/Kimberly
This is a description Ah-Kim/Kimberly used for her aunt, who owns the factory she and her mother worked at ever since they set foot in America. The quote stood out to me, because I realised that I’ve had a similar thought before, in that I was willing to help people so long as it doesn’t end up with them being in better positions than me.
As horrid as this sounds, there were a few points in life when this was my gut reaction, and although I eventually re-evaluated myself and adjusted my attitude towards helping out, it can sometimes be difficult to look past personal agendas and be genuine in a society built upon survival of the fittest. This is one of the themes illustrated throughout the plot and, whether it’s migrating to another country or simply moving to a new workplace/school, an idea worth recognising in our daily lives.
* “I never want to love someone like that, not even him, so much that there would be no room left for myself, so much that I wouldn’t be able to survive if he left me.” – Ah-Kim/Kimberly
I think this quote embodies one of the biggest takeaways people can get from the book. Love, particularly young love, can feel all-consuming and overpowering sometimes, up until the point where it’s difficult to distinguish our identities separate from the love we’re feeling or the people we’re loving at the time. Ah Kim/Kimberly’s attitude towards romantic love here is a great reminder that, although those we love can make us feel secure/whole and encourage us to become better people, we are still our own individuals fully capable of self love and fulfilment.
* “You may need to change your dreams […] sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves.” – Ma
Yet another important life lesson from the story! I decided to include this quote not only because its idea is constantly demonstrated throughout the book, but also because it’s simply eloquently worded. It’s often unpleasant at first when life doesn’t unfold the way we expected, but following up on the survival of the fittest concept referred to in the first quote, we can’t afford to fixate on dreams that need evolving. A harsh reality of life, but a reality nevertheless.
The question then becomes, how do we know when to change our dreams or to hold on just a little longer?
>> General Impressions
Overall, the book is an incredibly satisfying read and arguably an instant classic. I read it over a year ago in January 2016, just a couple of months after I moved away from Jakarta to London for university. Maybe this is why I was especially engrossed by the ups and downs of immigration captured through Ah-Kim/Kimberly’s story, but as the quotes I shared above hopefully show, Jean Kwok’s debut novel explores multiple elements of human nature that are supposedly relatable and applicable to everyone from all walks of life.
>> Other Opinions